Playing Hardball on Yom Kippur

I guess it’s only a true dilemma if you don’t know what your decision will be.

Should be is a whole nuther matter.

Yom Kippur, the most important and solemn day on the Jewish calendar, starts at sundown this evening. The Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals play the most important game of their respective baseball seasons at 8:37 pm ET.


Yom Kippur is a day of fasting (no food or drink for 24-plus hours), of prayer, of reflection, of asking for forgiveness—of spiritual awakening. It is also a time of thinking about how fortunate we are that most of us do not go hungry as a fact of life. What is 24 or so hours in the grand scheme of things, even for an overeater like me?


Besides, I’ll eat enough tonight and Saturday night to still end up gaining a pound or two. No worries on that score.


Yom Kippur also mandates that no work should be done and no electricity enjoyed. Now it’s getting tougher, and not because of the no-work part. I live on the computer, watch way too much TV and am not averse to listening to the radio. Even if I’m always a generation or two behind the technology curve, I’m always plugged-in.


So, what’s the rub for me and countless other Jewish baseball fans? We want to observe the rules of our faith, but how in (ahem) God’s name are we supposed to refrain from watching a playoff game? A playoff game featuring our Phillies. In the rubber game of the series—lose and the dream season is over, just like that.


There are worries on this score. Is God testing us?


I should not use “us” universally, as many of us draw different lines.


To the least observant Jews—who may or not be fasting, anyway—there may or not be pangs of guilt as they watch the Phillies try to win Game Five versus a tough Cardinals team. If they even realize that they’re not supposed to watch TV, they probably won’t care. Who really cares, anyway?


For the most observant ones, even the diehard Phillies fans, this apparent dilemma is a non-starter. There is no way they can watch the game; it pales in importance to religious observance. Factoid: My new rabbi is a Phillies’ season ticketholder; I think he has a Sunday plan, but  I don't think that his plans include watching this game.  He's a better man than I am, and I wouldn't want it any other way.


I saw this potential collision of baseball and belief—of sports and stricture—coming from a mile away, or at least from the ominous foreshadow cast five days ago.


As the Phillies, and my favorite Phillie (pitcher Cliff Lee), were shockingly blowing a 4-0 lead to lose Game Two (to tie the best-of-five series at one game apiece), I feared this would go the full five games. I double-checked the schedule. Yes, Game Five would be played in Philly at 8:37 PM tonight, announced by the TBS broadcasting team of  Dick Stockton and Bob Brenly. Isn't listening to Stockton and Brenly punishment enough?


As I studied the schedule, I knew what I would do. I am a man of faith. I will fast  for about the 40th time in my young life. I will even help with tomorrow morning’s youth Yom Kippur service as I did on Rosh Hashana last week. My mind will (mostly) be on prayer, on asking God for forgiveness and for seeking some form of spiritual renewal. But I will watch the baseball game—and on a still-full stomach. No snacks, no beer and no water.


Technically, there is a loophole or two that I can exploit. The letter of the law is that one is not allowed to turn electricity on or off during Yom Kippur, but leaving the TV on the full 24 hours is not expressly forbidden.


Growing up in a somewhat observant household, the Goldbergs would get all Yom Kippur’d up in a few ways—in addition to stuffing up on vast quantities of kosher grub. One bathroom light and one living room light would be left on for the full 24 hours. Our toilet paper would be replaced by facial tissues, as we were forbidden from tearing things. Seriously. And more often than not, we would leave the main TV on—usually for the purpose of watching a baseball playoff game.


In all those years, the Phillies were never involved in a Yom Kippur classic. Our faith was only tested so much. Our patience with our team was, but that's another story.


Obviously, the very fact that we were watching the game indicated that we were violating the spirit if not the letter of the laws of Yom Kippur. I have learned my lesson: I will not even pretend to follow the letter of the law this year.


Here's the plan. Just prior to dinner, I will start to watch Game Five of the Brewers-Diamondbacks game; I may or not shut it off as we eat. After dinner, I—and whoever joins me—will watch the end of that game, and then hunker down to stare at every pitch of Phillies-Cardinals. Frankly, my mind will not be on the spirit of the holiday at this point: I am a lifelong, crazed baseball fan, after all. After the game (and maybe just a little post-game analysis), I will shut the TV off.


Tomorrow morning, win or lose, I will show up at my synagogue, ready to be something resembling a role model to the third thru fifth graders where I will help lead the kids’ service. Win or lose, I will try to lose myself in the meaning of the service. I may stick around for the late morning service and will probably go home, rest, and then bring my son Benny (and maybe, wife Ruby) to the mid-afternoon little kiddie service.


My stomach and residual guilt pangs will start to hit as I spend the remaining two or three hours at home, waiting for the fast to be over.


In truth, while baseball should not even be considered while God is, supposedly, inscribing names in the Book of Life, my fast will be much easier if the Phillies keep their own season alive. My tummy may still be gurgling and producing after tastes of turkey, but they will be happy, tasty ones.


So this is not a true dilemma unless my conscience gets the best of me in about 12 hours. Sad though it is to admit, it is the wrong choice, but it seems like my only one.


The baseball gods (lower case) have already thrown a dilemma of sorts at me. Although a lifelong Phillies fan, my favorite ballplayer is Albert Pujols, the franchise player of the Cardinals. It is very hard for me to root against him—and to add to the drama, this may be Pujols’ last year in St. Louis after 11 phenomenal seasons.


Game Three was perfect for this Pujols/Phillies fan. Albert went 4-5 with three doubles, but always came up with nobody on base. He had a great day, but the Phillies won the game, 3-2. Ironically, he had no hits in Game Four, but his Cardinals won to force this Yom Kippur classic. Is there a lesson in that, or just irony?


It will be hard for me to watch as the man regarded as the best hitter on the planet will be dueling with the Phillies Roy Halladay, considered by many to be the best pitcher among all earthlings.


But clearly, I will find a way to watch: I am passionate, loyal, weak and selfish.


And then, within about eight hours of knowing whether my team will still be alive to chase another world championship, I will drag my passionate, loyal, weak, selfish self to schul and put some faith behind the notion that I can improve myself in the coming year.


Hey, stranger things can happen.



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